Seventy years ago Wednesday, Babe Ruth made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium. His voice was weak and raspy from the cancer that would take his life in a matter of weeks, but he managed to don a uniform as part of the ceremony at which his number 3 was retired. That uniform is the centerpiece of a Ruth display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but we now know it wasn’t worn only on that day, but in dozens of other appearances Ruth had made after his retirement. We also know where the uniform originated.
After Ruth dressed back into street clothes on January 13, 1948, the uniform was turned over to Hall of Fame representative Bob Quinn and it went on display in Cooperstown. However, after collector and Hall Board of Directors member Thomas Tull purchased the earliest known Ruth jersey for $4.4 million in 2012, he loaned it to the museum where it replaced the “retirement” jersey. That move led Hall officials to do a little more research on the jersey worn in 1948.
“That gave us a chance to take a second look at that jersey – something we hadn’t done for many, many years,” said Tom Shieber, the Hall’s Senior Curator. “With increased access to online digitized newspapers, newly discovered photographs, and numerous other research resources, we now have the opportunity to better examine and understand our artifacts.”
It turns out the uniform was made for the retired star for the 1942 filming of Pride of the Yankees, in which he played himself. Ruth kept it, wearing the uniform during numerous benefit games throughout the decade and then, one last time during that 1948 ceremony when photographer Nat Fein snapped the famous “Babe Bows Out” image that won a Pulitzer Prize. The pants he wore that day were not created for the movie, though. By 1948, Ruth had lost significant weight as he battled the throat cancer that would take his life. Hall officials believe the pants actually date from the early portion of his Yankees career.
You can read more about the Babe’s old flannels, the research and other details on the new exhibit in this story by Craig Muder of the Hall of Fame.